Ukrainian fintech sphere stages (and where are we now)

My blog is directly related to the financial technology. But one good friend of mine said that sometimes my texts are weak in structure. Like, yeah, the niche is interesting, very few people are speaking about it, but it seems fintech is a «pure creativity” and not a business niche with its own laws and formal principles of development.

Someone can say, that It’s true for Ukraine — they say, the market is small, so what kind of structure is there? Wrong: the size of the market determines the complexity of the structure, and not its presence or absence. Therefore, I decided to take the standard phases of the fintech industry, painted by the British financial technology guru Chris Skinner, as a basis, and tell which stage is «here and now» for Ukraine.

Phase # 1 — Destabilization

It began in 2001–2002 in Ukraine, with the advent of the first banking and non-banking tools for online payments and electronic money. People began to need to make quick payments for services, transfer money and other key elements of the payment chain. Bank branches could not provide this, and therefore, we had to learn from the experience / ideas / developments of PayPal, the first Western Internet banks etc. The essence of the concept of “destabilization” is a serious change in the customer requests (private and business), who had a necessity to constantly access their finances.

Phase 2 — Discussion

2007–2010 — the time of foundation / creation of many Ukrainian fintech companies that now occupy important niches in the market. Among them is my company, which I am inexpressibly proud of. It was a time of active scaling of online payment services among the «advanced» part of customers. In parallel with the existence of foreign e-wallets, Ukrainian ones were also actively working. Card payments became more convenient and user-friendly. Payment kiosks networks covered the whole of Ukraine, making payment and replenishment of many services available and in cash. It is extremely important, considering that cash payments confidently dominated non-cash payments back then. The discussion here is seen in the active competition and the creation of basic fintech-service coverage.

Phase 3 — Partnership

The longest phase at the moment — 2010–2017. Mainly due to the war and economic crisis that we have experienced since 2014. However, it’s the most active growth of financial services among Ukrainians, the emergence of new services and the final formation of the main niches in the market fall on it. Some focused on users, others (for example, we) on business payment solutions.

A lot of things happened during this period: UAH devaluation, the closure of many banks, the prohibition of most electronic wallets, etc. Difficult time, but at the same time it was full of possibilities. Non-bank financial institutions strengthened their positions in payment services. There are several new Internet banks that have competed with the leading bank. Also, the most active and solvent audience left the desktop for applications, making them much more convenient, better and more functional.

Banks finally understood that they couldn’t hide from digitalization anymore and began an active cooperation with fintech companies and startups. This partnership has made all participants stronger, the market more mature, and the customers more demanding for new products.

Phase 4 — Integration

We are here. The appearance of the first mobile bank in Ukraine (even though it’s a bank product of another traditional bank) is more important than the event that launched a new phase. Even so — it was the fact that the best practices of the fintech-team were integrated into the banking structure, launched and defined this phase. Now everyone wants to do that.

Another moment of integration — the banking component in the form of a credit card product becomes a main goal for mobile operators (the presentation of Lifecell on yesterday’s iForum 2019 speaks for itself), non-bank financial companies etc.

The third point is the Apple Pay and Google Pay release in Ukraine. Integration of a smartphone and card into a single payment tool, the most convenient and popular. That is why the cards are so desirable for everyone in fintech.

Planning what will be the next phase, is very difficult. Even the current one is problematic at all levels. Chris Skinner talks about the “Renewal» phase, linking it to Open Banking, the development of BigTech companies, mentioning the forthcoming PSD3 directive in the «Integration» phase. We haven’t implemented PSD2 yet, so it’s too early to speak. One thing is clear — fintech has become a driver of innovation and real change maker in user behavior. That is why the work here is less formalization and structure, but more real creativity.

CEO of the international payment system LEO, the shareholder of IBOX Bank